Is Brazil ready for the 2016 Games?

The buildup to Rio 2016 has been beset by political, economic and health crises, while doping has cast a shadow over sport and track and field in particular.

On August 5, organizers will hope to put all those various problems behind them when athletes from across the world march into the Maracana Stadium for the Opening Ceremony and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

Here’s how we stand as the countdown to the world’s biggest sporting event enters the home straight.

Venues

Most Olympic Games face questions over whether they are really worth the money. Billions of dollars are invested in redeveloping the infrastructure of host cities, but just what is the legacy from these sporting jamborees that are held every four years?

“In its favor, Rio has avoided expensive iconic architecture, opting for the dull, the functional and the temporary,” said author David Goldblatt, who has written a history of the Olympics, in the Guardian this week.

“Consequently it is set to produce fewer and less expensive white elephants than the leaders in this field, Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).”

“With just over one week to go until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, new and renovated sporting venues stand ready to welcome the world’s greatest athletes to Rio de Janeiro,” says the Rio 2016 website.

But if Beijing had the Bird’s Nest and London showcased a towering sculpture of twisted steel, perhaps it’s telling that arguably the most iconic Olympic sight in Rio remains the 78,000 Maracana — built in 1948, though redeveloped for the 2014 World Cup. The Maracana will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games.

Perhaps “dull and functional” is understandable, given Brazil has suffered economic problems since winning the right to stage the Olympics.

“We’ve had to make adjustments in terms of meeting new budget constraints and finding ways of saving money,” said Bill Hanway, who works for AECOM, the company that won the right to design the master plan for the Olympic Park.

“But at an Olympics you can’t just skip the main stadium or the basketball arena. You can’t make those giant cuts.”

If the venues are up and running, the construction of the Olympic Village has proven to be a bit more of a stumbling block.

Blocked toilets, leaky pipes and exposed wires were just a few of the reasons why Australia’s Olympic delegation initially refused to move in to the athletes village.

That prompted the deployment of a 600-strong workforce to ensure all 31 tower blocks were ready by the end of this week.

“Rio 2016 Chief Operations Officer Rodrigo Tostes confirmed tonight [Thursday] that all amendments have been completed at the Olympic Village and the task force has finished its work,” said a Rio 2016 statement.

“The village is now in normal operational mode. Currently 3,578 people from 151 countries, including 1,129 athletes, are in the village.”

By Friday, though, another problem cropped up: A small fire involving two pieces of cardboard burned in the basement car park of the Olympic Village apartments housing the Australian team. The athletes were evacuated for 30 minutes, Olympics spokesman Philip Wilkinson said.

Amid the facelift that Rio has undergone, the city’s residents continue to question whether it has all been worth it.

“Rio’s plan, in hosting the Olympics, was to get the city on the world stage, attracting tourism and investment,” wrote Rio blogger Julia Michaels. “We’d compete with other metropolises, brand ourselves.

“In the process, we forgot to take a good look at the product itself. With almost no effort, Rio stands out from most cities around the world. Who else has scenery and a percussive cultural mix like ours?

“Now if we’d just managed to produce better sanitation, income distribution, housing, public safety, an integrated and efficient transportation system, public health and education …

“The focus on marketing — instead of our reality — is why many locals aren’t exactly psyched for the Olympic Games.”

Doping

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